If you really want to improve the status of women, you have to work with men through education about their responsibilities. Correspondent GEORGE NYEMBELA reports on how the Tanzanian Men as Equal Partners Project has changed life styles of men in Singida Region.
IN many countries such as Tanzania traditional customs regard men as leaders and decision-makers in the day-to-day activities of the society. Singida men are not different from the rest of men in the country. They have changed greatly since the launch in 2010 of the Tanzanian Men as Equal Partners Project (TMEP) project.
The programme, which works in three district of the region -- Singida Urban, Singida Rural and Manyoni -- aims at scaling-up male involvement in sexual and reproductive health and rights, including HIV prevention.
Singida is among the central regions of Mainland Tanzania. It has an area of 49,341 square kilometres (about 4.9 million ha) -- equivalent to about six percent of the total area of Tanzania Mainland. It is comprised of four districts -- Singida Urban, Singida Rural, Iramba and Manyoni.
The region’s population stands at 1,900,758 of whom 559,743 are women and 531,015 men, according to the 2002 national census.
The TMEP project is based on the notion that men play a meaningful role in the advocacy of safe sex, and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, sexually-transmitted diseases, gender-based violence and HIV and AIDS.
It is very important to involve men in the struggle to strengthen women’s rights and create a supportive network. Stereotypical gender roles hinder both men and women from access to information and reproductive health services.
TMEP works with local non-governmental organisations in implementing the project. Health and Actions Promotion Association (HAPA) based in Singida works with TMEP in the region.
According to HAPA director David Mkanye, the NGO received capacity-building before it was engaged in the implementation of the project.
TMEP community level implementation begins with information, sensitization and mobilization of stakeholders and the community. Mkanye said local people were recruited as peer educators.
After graduating, the peer educators facilitate local events to provide information and education. They also distribute condoms and refer clients to relevant SRH services.
Msafiri Kinungu is a TMEP Ward Coordinator at Ilongero village, abouth 35 kms north of Singida town. “Information on Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) and Rights are the main tool in the project,” he added.
A survey conducted in Singida and Rukwa regions before the implementation of the project showed that 49 percent of men and women had never heard about SRH rights. Also, nearly half of men were not aware that women have the right to decide whether or not to get pregnant.
The survey also showed that 50 per cent of men and women believed that women needed to tolerate gender violence in order to keep their families united.
Kinungu said each month 25 men are trained on different issues related to reproductive health issues. The training takes a month and is conducted by peer educators from each village. Ilongero ward has nine villages -- Ilongero, Iddi Simba, Mrama, Sekotare, Madamara and Itamka, just to mention a few.
“After attending such sessions, men change completely, after learning that child bearing was the only biological activity of women. They start helping their wives with day to day activities such as taking children to dispensaries, carrying water, cooking and washing clothes, which were earlier regarded as female issues,” he added.
Distribution of resources in families was among the difficult areas for Singida men to grasp. Singida is among few regions in Tanzania blessed in the cultivation of sunflower. The crop produces the most admired cooking fat called “Sunflower Cooking Oil”.
The product has helped to employ many people in the region, since they are engaged in sunflower cultivation, oil production as well as trading. The Singida sunflower cooking oil is very famous in most parts of Tanzania, including neighbouring Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
Families work together during sunflower cultivation and harvesting but after selling the produce, men take the role on how the money should be spent. “Sometimes men used the money to pay for dowry and marry another woman without the consent of the first wife. Today such cases are slowly disappearing after theTMEP Project,” the Ilongero coordinator said.
“Since we have not reached all the villages in the region, some people have not received the training but now that the project has been extended, we hope to reach them in the coming months, Kinungu said.
The TMEP sensitisation goes to schools where clubs are established. The clubs are established to discuss sexuality, gender as well as to promote gender equality and male involvement to the coming younger generation.
The youth can easily change compared to the old generation, as it is always said, “It is very difficult to teach an old dog new tricks”. Therefore, training youth in schools is the best way in getting good results.
The Clinical Officer at Ilongero Health Centre, Grace Kishindo said two public nurses at the centre were trained by TMEP to become more male friendly and to develop their understanding on a right based approach to SHR service delivery.
Kishindo, who is also the head of Ilongero Health Centre said as soon as a pregnant women visits the clinic centre for the first time, she was given a letter for her husband. The letter usually asks the husband to accompany his wife during the following visit to the clinic.
“Couples are usually given first priority at the clinic because men are not very tolerant so we quickly give them services and many are now responding to centre’s call by accompanying their wives to attend clinics”, she added.
Juma Athumani (37) from Iddi Simba village was accompanying his wife, Mwanahawa Hamisi (32). The Couple are having five children but were planning to have the last child, which would be sixth.
“It is my third time to accompany my wife to the clinic, during my first visit, I was oriented on the benefits of HIV test and I took the test with my wife”, Athuman said.
Also, I was sensitized on the importance of helping my wife in daily activities like fetching water as well as washing. Also, I learnt on the importance of preparing for the coming new baby, which includes clothes and money in case complications occur during delivery.
“Usually we request men to accompany their wives to the clinic, only three time, before delivery which takes nine months, women attend clinic only once a month”, the Ilongero Health Centre Head told the visiting Journalists.
During the visit, Athumani was not the only husband accompanying his wife, there were several other couples looking at us. Other men were taking their children to the Ilongero Health Centre to get treatment instead of their wives. That is U-turn to men in Singida.